I recently started researching routers to replace my current one. My ISP is Charter. I believe Charter offers 100 mbps as a regular service. The WAN port on most routers is 10/100 mbps while some even connect at 1000mbps max bandwith. My question is- If my max bandwith on my router starts at 100 mbps through the WAN port, then why do they offer channels that will support 3 to 10 times that amount wirelessly? Some routers offer even more speed through those channels. Is it because each channel may have multiple devices connecting to it? If so- how does the theoretical speed increase when I’m limited to 100 mbps hard-line?
The reason that wireless routers offer higher speeds is that wireless technology is not developed specifically for Internet connections. Wireless networking is designed primarily as a local area network (LAN) technology. In other words, for communication between devices on the same network (think of a business in an office building). It is very beneficial for computers on a network to be able to communicate with each other as quickly as possible. Back in the 1980’s and early/mid 1990’s, 10 Mbps was considered high speed for a LAN. Then in the later 1990’s 100 Mbps started to become the standard for high speed. Eventually 1000 Mbps (gigabit) became the standard and while faster LAN technologies are available today, gigabit is the common high speed technology available for mainstream usage. So as you see, it is important for wireless technologies to be able to keep up with wired LAN technology in order to be viable. While you are correct in that it really is overkill for an Internet router to offer these really high speed wireless connections, there are some other advantages to the newer wireless protocols besides speed that make sense to include them. As well, it can be used for marketing purposes, so there are also some non-technical reasons that manufacturers include the latest and greatest technology, even if they aren’t necessarily benefiting the customers all that much. Great question, thanks!
Also, if your Internet connection tops out at 100 Mbps, then you will not be able to pull more than that from multiple devices, so having the higher speed wireless connections doesn’t magically make your Internet connection faster. However, in some cases, the newer wireless protocols are more efficient in handling connections from multiple devices so they may make your router more efficient, which would reduce network lag due to your router being a bottleneck (think of a traffic cop who doesn’t move very quickly being replaced by one who worked faster – the same traffic would move faster through the same intersection, but even the fastest traffic cop in the world can’t move traffic faster than the intersection will allow). That being said, many Internet providers will allow for “burstable” connections which means that you can actually get a faster speed than what you’re paying for. For example, over the last several months my 100 Mbps Charter speed will regularly test at up to 130 Mbps at certain times of the day. Basically Charter will allow for bursts of higher speeds when they have the bandwidth available to spare in an area. But these higher speeds are not due to your router being able to magically make your Internet connection faster (although as I said, you do need to have router that can handle the higher speeds efficiently).